Talking to the Scottish Parliament, Net Zero Cabinet Secretary Màiri McAllan, said today that proposals consulted on to implement Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) in 10% of Scotland's seas by 2026 will not go forward. In practice, this means that HPMAs have been shelved, at least for the time being. In her statement, McAllan also noted that they remain "firmly committed to the outcome of enhanced marine protection."
In the announcement, the Scottish Government also states that its next steps include seeking greater community and industry involvement. It is worth recalling that just a fortnight ago, under the so-called 'Seafood Coalition', Scotland's salmon fishermen, farmers and processors united in a unanimous and unprecedented petition calling on the Government to abandon its policy on HPMAs. One of their members, Salmon Scotland, has already reacted to the decision. "We welcome the Scottish Government's confirmation that HPMAs, as currently conceived, will be scrapped," said CEO Tavish Scott.
Just yesterday, this coalition of industry representative bodies, warned the Scottish Government against "attempting to disguise its fundamental flaws by renaming it and vowing to consult stakeholders more comprehensively." Speaking on behalf of the coalition, Scottish Fishermen's Federation CEO, Elspeth Macdonald said: "Opposition to this policy, which lacks scientific rationale, is widespread throughout our coastal communities. The Scottish Government needs to scrap it, not rebrand it, and carry out a complete rethink."
Today's announcement by Secretary McAllan appears to answer that request. With a new pathway and timetable, plans to provide greater protection for Scotland's marine environment will be reviewed. The Scottish Government also said it will take more time to work with industry, communities, and conservation organizations to improve marine protection. However, it has qualified that it will do so "while supporting any groups that wish to pursue community-led marine protection in their local area on a quicker timescale."
"We are in the midst of a nature and climate crisis and we must be prepared to take action commensurate with the scale of that challenge," said the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Net Zero and Just Transition. "Failure to safeguard and improve the resilience of Scotland's marine ecosystems to a changing climate risks the very basis on which our marine industries and coastal communities are built."
"We chose to consult as early and widely as possible on the principles of HPMAs, with no pre-determined sites," she also said, assuring that the Government's plan has always been and continues to be to work in cooperation with communities to identify how and where to improve marine protection in a way that minimizes impact and maximizes opportunities.
"Therefore, while we remain firmly committed to the outcome of enhanced marine protection, the proposal as consulted on will not be progressed," Màiri McAllan continued. The Net Zero Secretary said she will provide more details on the next steps after the summer recess, but before going on vacation she wanted to issue a warning. "I hope that it is clear that I am determined to protect our oceans in a way that is fair, and to find a way forward that ensures our seas remain a source of prosperity for the nation, especially in our remote, coastal and island communities," she said.
Finally, in her statement to Parliament, McAllan also confirmed that an ongoing programme of work to implement fisheries management measures in existing MPAs where they are yet to be introduced and to protect some of the most vulnerable Priority Marine Features outside of MPAs, will be taken forward as a priority.
As mentioned, the CEO of Salmon Scotland has already commented on the Scottish Government's decision to shelve the Highly Protected Marine Areas. "HPMAs united coastal communities and MSPs in total opposition, as they posed a risk of banning all human activity from vast swathes of Scotland's coastline," Tavish Scott has said. "We welcome the Scottish Government's confirmation that HPMAs, as currently conceived, will be scrapped."
"This decision comes as a massive relief to salmon farmers and others who were concerned about the impact on their jobs," he has continued. "I am grateful to all the MSPs who have spoken up in support of our sector during these difficult months and to those who signed our petition outside Holyrood a fortnight ago."
Regarding the announcement by Net Zero Cabinet Secretary Màiri McAllan that more community and industry involvement will be sought in reviewing plans to provide greater protection for Scotland's marine environment, Salmon Scotland's CEO has been open to collaboration. "We commit to working with the Scottish Government to develop workable proposals that safeguard both livelihoods and the marine environment on which they rely," has concluded Tavish Scott.